What are Self-Driving Cars?

In just a few years, the public went from never thinking an autonomous car was possible to actively considering buying one in the future. Every automaker has joined on board to create self-driving cars for our future. Even a new company, Waymo, has been formed out of the self-driving car project run by Google. What do these self-driving cars mean for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft and how will they change the world we live in?

History of Self-Driving Cars

11 years ago, the only people that thought about autonomous cars were the participants at the 2007 Urban Challenge. This event was a competition of self-driving vehicles and held by the Pentagon’s Darpa.

2007 Urban Challenge - self driving cars

Previously, the military attempted to build vehicles but lacked the technology needed to make it all happen. So, they invited the public to have a shot; where is where the Urban Challenge started. The whole world was invited to the Mojave Desert and allowed to race their robot. Whichever one went the fastest won the million dollar award.

There were other events held previous to this one, but none of them panned out well. The 2004 Grand Challenge didn’t produce anything that went further than seven miles. That was a far cry from the 142 miles of dirt and sand they needed to drive through. In 2005, five vehicles did end up making it to the finish line, but it wasn’t until 2007 that they were able to park, merge, obey traffic laws, and make legal U-turns.

Then, Google launched its self-driving car project just two years later. They hired a team from the Darpa Challenge and put them to work. Together, they created a system which took on some tough California roads without much human involvement.

Just a few years after that, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would build their own self-driving system for cars. Other companies have been involved in production as well. In 2015, Uber used some Carnegie Mellon University scientists to create some AI and robotics designs.

It became too big for any automaker to ignore. Now all of the major companies strive to create their own technology.

Are Self-Driving Cars Safe?

When Elaine Herzberg was killed by a self-driving Uber car in Arizona, the world started to consider the safety of self-driving vehicles. The reality, it turns out, is that self-driving cars don’t pose any more risk than human-piloted cars.

traffic accident

Self-driving cars have driven millions of miles during road tests and the experts agree that they are safer than cars with human drivers. Once adopted, the technology could save numerous lives on the road.

90% of traffic fatalities are caused by human error according to the National Safety Council. That’s a lot of lives that would be saved by self-driving cars. Human drivers are limited by their visibility, bad weather, and a lack of maintenance on roadways. With self-driving car technology, all of these are no longer issues or concerns.

Not only can technology see around the car 360-degrees, but it’s never distracted like a human driver is. They also won’t fall asleep or drift into oncoming traffic.

How Do Self-Driving Cars Work?

In recent years, the self-driving cars have adopted new technologies that help to make them a reality. These cars utilize these technologies:


  1. IoT Sensors – these are used for multiple self-driving car purposes. These sensors run the blind-spot monitoring, radar, camera, forward collision warning, LIDAR, plus ultrasonic systems.
  2.  IoT Connectivity – cloud computing is utilized to analyze the traffic data, maps, weather, surface conditions, and nearby This enables the self-driving cars to monitor their surroundings and make the best decisions based on the information provided. To utilize these technologies, the car must be connected to the Internet.
  3. Software Algorithms – the car collects data that is then analyzed through the software algorithms. This aspect is the most advanced part of the car’s technology. Any flaw in this setup could prove to be disastrous.

Self-Driving Pros

There are many advantages to using self-driving cars on the road. Here are a few to consider.

  1. Computers are ideal motorists because they don’t exhibit bad behaviors.
  2. Computers accurately calculate stopping distances, safe traveling speeds, and other information that reduces accident likelihood.
  3. Self-driving cars are never distracted from the road.
  4. Increased savings through insurance and health care expenses.
  5. Drivers can work on other things while traveling which allows them to utilize time better.
  6. Cars will communicate with each other which alleviates traffic congestion.
  7. Disabled individuals won’t need to rely on public transportation.
  8. Speed limits could be raised once the roads are safer.
  9. Drunk driving incidents decrease.
  10. Police officers won’t have to write tickets, but rather focus on more serious
  11. Parking wouldn’t be an issue because the car could drop you off and then park further away.
  12. DMV lines will be shorter since you wouldn’t need a specialized license.
  13. Older adults won’t need to rely on family members to drive them somewhere.

navigation system

Self-Driving Cons

On the flip side, there are several cons you’ll want to consider as well.

  1. Drivers still need to have an understanding about how to use the car safely.
  2. The cost of this technology is too high for most Americans.
  3. Hackers might be able to get into the software.
  4. Personal data would be stored on the computers which pose some privacy concerns.
  5. Many public transportation jobs would be eliminated which might negatively impact employment.
  6. It’s unclear where responsibility would lie in a car accident.
  7. Heavy rain might damage the sensor on the roof.
  8. Cars can’t interpret all signals. For example, there’s no way for it to understand an officer directing traffic.
  9. Drivers become less equipped to drive as they rely more on technology.
  10. Computers don’t know how to tell the difference of laws between states. For example, some states it’s illegal to turn right on a red light.
  11. GPS is often wrong. How many times have you been told to turn down a dead end or one-way street? The self-driving car relies on this technology.
  12. The gas industry will suffer since self-driving cars will be electric.
  13. The thrill of driving will be gone.

The Future of Self-Driving Cars

Many people worry that self-driving cars are going to take over. We can assure you that’s not the plan. Autonomous vehicles aren’t a single device that one day is just going to control everything, but it’s a stepping stone in technology. They are part of a bigger picture.

Tesla superchargers

We don’t know when self-driving cars will be ready for mass production, but the hardware is almost available. Radars and cameras are now robust and cheap enough to start placing in many vehicles. Technology companies continue to jump on board which further creates more competition to keep prices low.

It should be interesting to see what happens when we all start riding in self-driving vehicles. We don’t think it’s going to be like the dystopian futures you see on TV, but probably more like a utopia. Technology will virtually eliminate all crashes and integrate into our everyday lives to make things smoother and faster moving. Just like the Internet, we’ll wonder what we ever did without this technology.

About Nishal Singh

Car enthusiast since before I could drive.

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